Written in October of 2014. This is part II, part I is here.
Back to Mike’s parents’ visit.
They wanted to see the Terra Cotta warriors, so we started in Xi’an. Flights were just as cheap as train tickets, so we flew. We read that a recommended attraction, the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (Han Yangling), was on the way from the airport to the city, so it became our first stop. It was an extremely impressive archaeological site with much fewer tourists than the other main sites. The main attractions are several burial pits that have been excavated and renovations of the gates and walls. There is enough history here to spend a few hours, and it is impressive, but it’s not a bucket list item that you will regret skipping. There was also a museum, but we missed it. As usual, there was some confusion about the location, and as it turns out the museum was at a separate site nearby.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any cabs that far out from the city. We didn’t know this at first. Mike tried using his taxi app.
Next, we asked the staff where to get a cab. I don’t know what they said, and Mike was also confused, but I understood when we walked outside and sat on a bench in front of a bus sign, that a bus was the only option. The bus didn’t come for 30 minutes, and it was cold. I didn’t like that. We took the bus to the Northern outskirts of the city, and then a subway to near our hostel. We didn’t plan on giving Mike’s parents the experience of a crowded subway with large bags, having to lug it up and down tons of stairs with no handicap (or large bag) accessibility.
Fortunately, our hostel, the Hangtan Inn Hostel, was a good choice, and an excellent location.
The Muslim Quarter
That evening we wandered through the Muslim Quarter, which was not at all what I expected. I’m not sure what it was I expected, but what we found was a touristy, overcrowded, over-hyped night market (with excellent street food). However, unlike most night-market-with-food areas in China, there was nowhere to sit. No cheap stools next to child-sized tables, and I like to sit when I eat. We didn’t get a chance to check out the mosque or see the area during the day, so I can’t say this isn’t a good place to visit.
Don’t set your expectations too high, but it’s probably worth a quick visit. If you want good food and avoid the crowds, there are tons of other small streets nearby with great snacks.
The next morning we took the cheap public bus option to the Terra-cotta Warriors. The bus stopped a lot. I think there are three bus options for around 10 RMB/pp. I would recommend finding the more expensive bus that makes fewer stops. We chose to pay for a guide for the Terracotta Warriors, and it was worth the cost and was much easier than reading the poorly translated signs. Other than the typical crazy expensive gift shops, the site appeared to be well run. We also caught it on a day that wasn’t so busy, so there were no crowds. We even got to meet the pomegranate farmer who accidentally discovered the site(who seemed terribly bored having to sign books all day.) Unfortunately, we asked our guide for a recommendation for lunch, and he brought us to an overpriced, not very good, place to eat the locally famous “Biang Biang Mian” (the dish is mostly famous because the character for biang is extremely hard to write, with 58 strokes). That day, Mike’s mom learned that not all Chinese food is good.
That evening we returned to Xi’an in time to rent bikes on top of the city wall. If you’re ever in Xi’an, it is a must do. Mike and I rented a tandem bicycle for the first and last time. It’s a lot harder than it looks, especially steering. If you want to spend some time cursing at your spouse, it’s a very good idea (We did fine, the cursing only happened at the beginning when Mike thought it was a good idea for me to steer).
Next Stop: Guoliang Village (Henan)
After two nights, we left to head towards Guoliangcun, a village north of Zhengzhou. Our day of travel did not go as planned. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we didn’t intend to leave our hostel at 7:30 AM and only arrive in Guoliangcun at 8:45 PM. I will spare you most the details (let’s just summarize it as 3 buses, 3 trains, 3 taxis, and a lot of work for our translator) but it wasn’t an easy day, even for Mike and I. Sorry, Mike and Alice.
I tried doing as much research about the park before our travels, and I knew there were a few questions unanswered. There was an entrance to the park itself (the Wanxianshan-scenic area), and the village was in the mountains, in the park. In the past, it appeared people could drive to the village itself (or take a taxi), or take multiple buses from the closest train station to the bottom of a steep hill, then walk the rest of the way. For the sake of time and economy of traveling with four people, we knew a taxi for the last leg would be the reasonable choice of travel. In my research, I couldn’t find any personal experience using a driver, so I was unsure how much it would cost or how difficult it would be to find a driver. I knew it was a long distance through steep and windy roads. On our day of travels, unfortunately, we were four hours behind our schedule when we finally arrived at the last train station. After 15 minutes of communication, we were happy to find the first driver in the taxi line willing to drive the distance at a reasonable cost; she just had to switch with her husband in the next town over.
After climbing a good amount of altitude and two hours in the car, around 8 PM, we were stopped. It appeared we had arrived at the park entrance, but there was no ticket office. Confused, some drivers kept going, and others parked. The unofficial looking people blocking the road said something; Mike inquired, but we were still all confused. Mike did manage to understand there was a bus that could take us the final leg to the village supposedly for free. So we hopped out of the cab and into the bus, with no idea how long it would take to leave.The bus next to us, empty, left in the direction we were going. We tried asking the driver what was going on, and he just waved his hand like he didn’t want to bother with us. The first fifteen minutes we were alone, except for the bus driver and all the local people trying to get us to stay in their families’ guest house. Those are the people I dislike. They are the ones that will tell you any lie and provide disinformation to get your money. These particular men said that we shouldn’t want to go to Guoliangcun because the guest houses were expensive. They wanted us to stay near the entrance, where they were likely to get a larger commission from the guesthouse owners. As it turns out, the prices that they were quoting were opposite of reality, so we stuck to our guns and stayed on the bus. What else did they tell us? I don’t even remember, but they were all lies, and we kept trying to ignore them, but they kept trying to talk. Only Mike could understand them, but we all were frustrated with their antics. It felt like a scam from angles, with the bus driver, locals, and officials all involved. Finally, another Chinese family came on the bus, and the onslaught stopped. The bus began moving shortly after that.
Then the bus stopped. There was another bus, packed full, but the drivers only wanted one bus to go up the mountain, so we were told to get on the other bus. Luckily we got the last seats. That bus stopped, we all had to get off and buy overpriced tickets, walk through a turn-style, then get back on the bus. The bus driver was crazy and stepped on the gas when going around each corner, with people screaming out of surprise and adventure. I was very thankful for Dramamine.
We finally made it to the top. After checking out 3-4 of the guesthouses, we realized they were all the same, and cheap at only $16/ night. We chose one, had a good dinner whipped up by the guesthouse owner, and went to bed. The next couple days I fell in love with Guoliangcun, but I also re-realized my irritation toward Chinese tourists. Oh, my! So many people, in such a small rural area. And they were ALL yelling “Hello!” to us. Mike claimed he felt like animals at a zoo, but with dollar signs on our foreheads. I guess it’s our fault for going anywhere on the weekend.
Unfortunately, we didn’t discover the immenseness of the entire scenic area, beyond Guoliangcun, until the day we left and drove down a separate way. It was even more amazing and beautiful than what we show here. It’s a place I wouldn’t mind going back to(during the week, not on the weekend), and if anyone has the opportunity to go there, I would recommend they make the stop. It’s not easy to get to, but it is definitely worth it. I could have spent an entire week there and not gotten sick of the scenery.
Two more buses, a train, four taxis, and a flight later, we made it back to Hangzhou to continue doing some local tourism.